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Expert witness for Fargo surgeon says sex assault 'not anatomically possible'

FARGO - A medical expert who testified this morning in the defense of Fargo doctor Jon Norberg said the surgeon safely administered the powerful sedative propofol to his wife in their home and called her description of how she awoke to her husband forcing oral sex on her "not anatomically possible."

Jon Norberg is accused of injecting his wife, Alonna Norberg, with propofol without her consent and sexually assaulting her while she was sedated.

Alonna Norberg, a pediatrician with emergency room training, has testified that she agreed to let her husband inject her with Diprivan - the brand name for propofol - three times, but that she told him to stop using it when she found out it was propofol, a medication unique for its milky white appearance.

Dr. Joseph Ramos, a practicing physician and professor at the University of Colorado who has taught conscious sedation at the university hospital, was asked by defense attorney Robert Hoy if he thought that Alonna Norberg's claim that she didn't know Diprivan and propofol were the same thing was plausible.

"Not even maybe," Ramos said.

After reviewing Alonna Norberg's medical records, Ramos said her tolerance to pain medications was "unique, to put it politely." He noted that at one point she was on 51 medications, and he said he found 39 different diagnoses listed in her records.

"There were so many doctor's notes, sometimes from similar fields, it was almost what we call 'doctor shopping' in medicine, where you go to one pain doctor and they don't give you what you want so you go to another and they don't give you what you want and you go to another state because the two don't give you what you want," he said.

Ramos, who also is an attorney, also questioned whether Alonna Norberg actually has Sjogren's syndrome, an immune system disorder, saying, "Many of the tests for it came back negative."

A prosecution expert on propofol, Dr. Steven Shafer, said earlier in the trial that Jon Norberg's monitoring of his wife while giving her propofol and the fact that he had sex with her while she was under its influence were "all well below the standard of care."

Shafer, a professor of anesthesiology at Stanford University and star witness in the trial of the doctor convicted in pop singer Michael Jackson's death, also said that based on statements made by Jon Norberg about how he administered propofol to his wife, it appeared she experienced short intervals of low-level awareness between periods of unconsciousness. His testimony was consistent with her recollection of the alleged sexual assault on the night of June 16-17, 2011, as a "clip in time."

Ramos agreed with Shafer that Alonna Norberg's level of sedation was minimal to moderate, but he said that even if she had gone into moderate sedation, she "absolutely" would have been able to converse with her husband.

Regarding her description of coming in and out of consciousness, Ramos said, "the whole dreamy in-and-out thing ... it's not medically explainable" because of the quick recovery time when propofol wears off.

Ramos said that Alonna Norberg's description of the assault - with her husband on top of her, pinning her arms down with his legs and pulling her head toward him - "is not anatomically possible" given her position and his.

Ramos also noted that patients receiving certain medications, including propofol, will exhibit a natural bite reflex before they completely go under. He said the level of propofol given to Alonna Norberg wasn't enough for her to go into deep sedation, but even if she had, the act in question wouldn't work.

Ramos' testimony continues this afternoon in the trial, which started Nov. 5 with jury selection. This is the seventh day of testimony.

Jon Norberg is charged with gross sexual imposition, a Class AA felony punishable by up to life in prison upon conviction. He also faces a Class C felony reckless endangerment charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years.

Though The Forum does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assaults, Alonna Norberg consented to be named to contest her husband's claims that she gave him permission to use propofol on her and that he never sexually abused her.